Freemasons remember war heroes

From left,  Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson, county provincial grand master of the freemasons Mike Wilks, and  Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight Maj Gen Martin White
From left, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson, county provincial grand master of the freemasons Mike Wilks, and Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight Maj Gen Martin White
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TALES of gallantry filled the Royal Green Jacket’s Museum at a dinner held to honour First World War heroes.

The six Victoria Cross holders from lodges in Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and Aldershot were remembered by patrons at the commemorative event in Winchester.

Ernest Pritcher

Ernest Pritcher

Mike Wilks, the provincial grand master of the Freemasons in the province, was joined by the Lord Lieutenants of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and members of the lodges where the VC winners were members.

Stories detailing the bravery of the six, all of whom were masons, included that of Norman Augustus Fitch.

Sergeant Fitch, who died in Portsmouth aged 76, was 28 when he was awarded the VC by ballot.

In April 1918 in Belgium, he was second in command of the pom-poms and Lewis gun in the foretop of HMS Vindictive.

During battle, the ship was being hit every few seconds.Two heavy shells hit the foretop, killing or disabling everyone except Sgt Fitch.

Stuck in an exposed position and severely wounded, a determined Sgt Fitch continued fire on the enemy until the foretop was directly hit again.

The masons also shared the story of Ernest Herbert Pritcher, born in 1888.

He won his VC in 1917 after serving as gun crew captain in HMS Dunraven.

While under attack from an enemy submarine, a fire broke out aft and a machine gun magazine exploded, throwing the gun and crew into the air.

Pritcher landed on mock trucks made of wood and canvas which cushioned the blow and saved his life.

He retired from the Royal Navy in 1927 but rejoined before the Second World War, serving on the south coast.

Mr Wilks said: ‘The acts of valour and self-sacrifice that earn recognition by the award of a Victoria Cross are by their nature extremely hazardous.

‘To date 44 per cent of the crosses have been awarded posthumously.

‘The six servicemen whom we honour all survived to play their part in the community.’